Creating Places in an Interconnected World: New Technology & Our Buildings

Creating Places in an Interconnected World

Data, health, user experience and collaborations will be shaping the future of our buildings in an interconnected world. With new technology, buildings have a renewed focus on the end user.  No wonder, current migration trends suggest that by 2050, 68% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. With density on the rise and agglomeration settling into the new norm, it is likely that buildings will increasingly play a more pivotal role in our cities. This role, however, is largely undefined and represents an opportunity ripe for disruption.  

This blog outlines some of the key insights from our panel on An Interconnected World: New Technology & Our Buildings which was held on 30 May 2019 in Singapore in collaboration with our partners at General Assembly and SGInnovate. Coming from a diverse set of backgrounds and professions, the panelists discussed some of these important opportunities from human-centric health, trust and partnerships to techno-centric trends and innovations.

 Data and Design

“You can’t design on a whim, you need data”

- Anoma Baste, Space Matrix

 Across the panel, data was a crucial talking point. Its primary power in building innovation lies in the ability to reveal the wants and needs of its environment. These were some of the use cases mentioned:

  •  Data from existing workplaces can inform the design of future workplaces with similar needs and patterns.

  • Data can be used to monitor and adjust indoor air quality to ensure a healthy and productive environment.

  • Data collected through platforms about consumer demand can be used to act on revealed trends.

  • Data can be utilised as a linkage between different components of a building’s operation to smoothen and quicken the workflow process.

Data is a powerful element at all stages of building innovation—design, preconstruction, construction, operations and maintenance. In this industry, however, the uptake of digital solutions has been rather slow due to the inherent complexities and technicalities. As more organisations begin to see the opportunities in this space, investment will also begin to follow in. From 2011 through early 2017, $10 billion has been invested in construction-technology firms alone. Driving this is the rise of startups working on data-driven solutions. 

Startup example: One such startup is IrisVR, based in New York City. Using virtual reality, building information modelling (BIM) and data, it allows for real-time collaborations on complex design and construction projects. Using this type of technology in the construction process means that multiple stakeholders can save time, cost and resources through simulating specific aspects before needing to commit to a physical project.  

The Case for Health

“90% of global population live in places where the air is not fit for health”

 - Joelle Chen, MANN + HUMMEL Group

When one thinks of building innovation, healthy air isn’t necessarily one of your top candidates. However, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), places of work (which are often in buildings) are one of the best places to address health concerns because “the workplace directly influences the physical, mental, economic and social well-being of people and in turn the health of their families, communities and society”.

Beyond just the intrinsic benefit of a healthier environment, building innovation that specifically promote a better living and working atmosphere have been seen to: 

  • Attract and retain talent better in the workplace.

  • Increase productivity due to a reduction in employee costs (sickness, discontent, etc.).

  • Serve as a competitive advantage in the real estate market against the backdrop of sustainability-conscious consumers.

Startup example: In this space, one such startup is Enlighted, originally from California but now expanding to Singapore as well. Enlighted’s technology uses a combination of smart light sensors and control nodes to adjust the lighting in offices and commercial buildings. This interior lighting solution is then projected to improve energy efficiency, occupancy comfort as well as reduce operational and maintenance costs.

 Building Together

“A platform of trust”

 - Mallika Gadepalli, Property Guru

 In addition to these techno-centric solutions, the panelists also highlighted the importance of collaboration and partnerships within and across industries. Conventionally, the major building processes have been isolated. However, with the advent of new technology, mindset and human capital will increasingly need to adapt to these changes as well. Some of the key insights into partnerships include:

  •  Having multiple platforms for engaging with stakeholders—clients, partners and the public.

  • Integrating startups working on similar solutions into the larger industry ecosystem by h actively reaching out and scouting.

  • Building a culture where transparency is at the heart of collaboration.

Startup example: This is not to say that technology has no place in this newfound collaboration. Construction management startup Procore demonstrates exactly the  opposite. Procore’s software helps to facilitate this very collaboration by providing stakeholders with the necessary tools such as project management, quality control, safety, financials and more. Together, technology can spur along this trend to transform the building innovation space.

 Crafting User Experiences

“50 billion things (IoT) will be connected by 2020”

 - Sunil Kumar Yadav, Siemens

 At the centre of it all, buildings are being designed for people. With millennials now coming of age, expectations of what a workplace or a home should look like are changing. As most of the purchasing power will soon be in the hands of this generation, building trends have tended towards a more stylish, decentralised experience. Aiding this switch is the rise of the Internet  of Things (IoT) technology. Here, the goal is to craft unique user experiences in these spaces which engage the user across  all five senses.

 Each panelist spoke about how the user is in the driver’s seat of this transformation:

  •  Through behavioural patterns observed in data, workplaces are transforming their looks and layouts to suit a new generation.

  • Rising health-consciousness and the abundance of choice allows potential employees to scout around for jobs.

  • Consumer demand expressed through purchasing data or feature requests reflect the direction for future innovations.

  • Comfort as a primary factor of consideration when entering a space causes companies and developers to rethink their priorities in construction.

Startup example: Given this, one startup working on utilising this IoT technology is Singapore-based SensorFlow. The startup SensorFlow provides a smart wireless IoT solution that monitors, analyses and automates your hotel room environment. SensorFlow uses wireless sensors to gather real time data from within hotel rooms, providing you with insights, automating decision making and optimising hotel’s energy efficiency. 

Looking at the bigger picture, transformation in the  building and real estate sector requires a balance between human experience and technological innovation and leading this charge are a multitude of startups across the globe. With buildings springing up quicker than ever before in history, it is imperative that we discover new ways of optimising them for both ourselves and the environment.

Katarina Hasbani